As the Solomon Trader Disaster Shows, 30 Years after Exxon Valdez, Nowhere is Safe from Oil Spills – including the Arctic

Co-written with Sian Prior and Eelco Leemans on behalf of the Clean Arctic Alliance, published March 22, 2019

This March 24, Alaskans will mark the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, when, due to human error, a single-hulled oil tanker struck a reef in Prince William Sound, eventually releasing 35,000 tonnes of crude oil.The impacts on livelihoods and the marine ecosystem were devastating – and three decades later, the effects are still being felt.

After Exxon Valdez, many things changed in the maritime business – over 7,000 crude oil tankers worldwide, for instance, are now required to have double hulls, thanks to MARPOL Annex I, an important international marine environmental convention, aimed at minimising marine pollution caused by shipping.

Yet, double hulls are not a panacea for all oil spills. There’s another 46,000 ships sailing the world’s oceans – general cargo ships, bulk carriers, container vessels, chemical and LNG tankers, ro-ro and passenger vessels. Some, but not all, have double hulls, double-bottoms, or protected fuel tanks. All of these (with a few exceptions), for now, use some form of fossil fuel for propulsion – heavy fuel oil, diesel, or Liquified Natural Gas. While oil volumes may be a fraction of those carried as cargo by oil tankers, a spill of even a comparatively small volume of fuel oil, particularly the most viscous residual or heavy fuel oils, can be devastating for ocean ecosystems, shorelines, wildlife, communities and livelihoods.

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Ireland, Climate Change and the Power of Small States

This article first appeared on The Green News, 15 March 2019, with the title “Seasoned Irish climate campaigners ‘spurred on’ by climate strikes”

Today, over 1,750 climate strikes will take place in some 110-odd countries – Ireland included – inspired by actions of one 16-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg.

This is the same Greta Thunberg who was recently vetoed by European political parties, EPP and ALDE, from giving a speech at the European Parliament. Fine Gael is a member of the EPP, and Fianna Fail a member of ALDE.

Given Fine Gael’s Euro-party position, it is curious that the Taoiseach is “inspired and enthused” about this week’s climate strike. Is he inspired and enthused enough to show real political commitment to dealing with climate change?

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The Ecologist: Ridding the Arctic of the world’s dirtiest fuel

This article appeared on The Ecologist, on behalf of the Clean Arctic Alliance

Ban on heavy fuel oil transportation from Arctic waters is on the agenda of the world’s shipping experts.

Shipping specialists from around the world are shuttering themselves in the International Maritime Organization’s central London headquarters this week to thrash out a number of issues surrounding the threat of pollution to the climate and oceans from the global shipping industry.

This is an industry that for most of us remains unseen, but which we depend on for bringing us stuff from all over the planet.

At this meeting, the elegantly titled “PPR6”, delegations will be tasked with designing a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil, as fuel, from Arctic waters, and the identification of measures which will reduce emissions of black carbon from the burning of fossil fuels.

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Fish and Ships: What’s On Your Plate?

Back in early 2017, I wrote a blog, 2016 in review: What I Got Up To and What Happens Next, about what I’d been working on, and who I had been working with. It was a way of thanking everyone I had collaborated with during the year, to take stock and to get me thinking about  the future.

I also wanted to explore how people really use social media tools like LinkedIn. Despite time spent – or wasted – making connections on digital social networks, we often have no idea what our friends, and colleagues – and even family are working on. I wanted to see who was engaged, and what ideas could be fired up.

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New Article: A Vision for a Heavy Fuel Oil-Free Arctic

Here’s an article that I co-authored with my colleague, Dr Sian Prior, on why heavy fuel oil needs to be banned from Arctic shipping, and how this can be achieved. It’s published in the esteemed Environment magazine, AKA Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, Volume 60, 2018 – Issue 6.

The article,
A Vision for a Heavy Fuel Oil-Free Arctic is behind a paywall, tho I do have limited free access credits for those who would like access. Contact me for more details!

Which Shipping Companies Are Ready for the Coming Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban?

First published on the shipping news website Splash 24/7 on 13/9/2018

In April this year, a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC72) in London agreed to move forward on developing a ban on heavy fuel oil – for use and carriage as fuel from Arctic shipping. My colleague Dr Sian Prior and I wrote about how the world’s dirtiest shipping fuel would be banned from the Arctic – why it should be banned, and how the ban was going to take place.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO. With climate change fuelling high winter temperatures and driving sea ice melt, Arctic waters are opening up to increased shipping in search of shorter transit times – and greatly increasing the risks of HFO spills.

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Doing Comms: What does a Communications Advisor Do All Day?

Photo: Shadows from the Tailenguak Cliffs fall on Iceberg from Humboldt Glacier, Kane Basin, Nares Straight, Greenland.© Dave Walsh – More details

I do comms and strategy. That is, I write and communicate, mostly on environmental campaigns and science issues, as well devising ways to help organisations achieve their ambitions. As people – friends, family, even clients – are often perplexed as to what this involves, I thought I’d have a go at actually communicating about what I do all day.

Doing comms does include traditional press officer tasks – like pushing “send” on media releases and haranguing overworked journalists. Getting a story published, however is only part of the job. Communications shouldn’t happen as an afterthought or in isolation, or for its own sake. It doesn’t matter how many centillions of people Like, Retweet or even read (heaven forbid) what I’ve just catapulted out into the ether, if this frenzy of attention cannot be converted into some kind of real world action.
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The River Flows

Photograph: Jim Walsh, 1942-2017. The Da – my father, photographed on 3rd June 2011.

I said goodbye to my father last week. My sister, brother and I all spoke at his funeral. Here’s something I wrote, based on what I said:

Fourteen years ago, I phoned him to tell him that I’d been offered to sail on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, on a trip in the Tasman Sea off New Zealand. “That’s a great opportunity, Dave, you should consider it”. “Too late, Dad, I’ve already said yes”. He paused. “How did you get into all this stuff anyway?” Continue reading “The River Flows”

Catalonia: State of Uncertainty

Catalonia declares independence from Spain
Catalonia declares independence from Spain – crowds near the Parc de Cuitadella Barcelona, on October 27, after the Catalan Parliament ratifies the Yes outcome of the independence referendum held on October 1st.

Note: This article first appeared on The Irish Times website on November 8, 2017. This version has links added, and some updates too. 

Having escaped police violence during Catalonia’s independence referendum on October 1st, trouble arrived this week in the town of Sant Cugat, where I live, just north of Barcelona.

On Monday night, an angry group of 300 people, waving Spanish flags, used knives to rip down a large banner that hung from the town hall. The banner read “Llibertat Presos Politics” – “Freedom for Political Prisoners” – in support of the Catalan government ministers and activists currently jailed in Madrid, following the recent declaration of the Catalan Republic.

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Irishman in Barcelona: ‘We’d be happy to live in a Republic of Catalonia’

Opinion: I want no part in a regime that hospitalises peaceful people who just want to vote

We spent from 5.30am on Sunday morning at the local library, or biblioteca, less than 100m from my home in Sant Cugat del Vallès, a town of 87,000 just over the hill from Barcelona. My partner and her father are from the French part of Catalonia, or Catalunya Nord, as it’s known. None of us could vote in the independence referendum, but after the authoritarian behaviour of the Spanish authorities in recent weeks, we wanted to help protect the voting centres.

As the sky slowly brightened outside, people chatted, read books, tried to sleep. Others had tea or coffee, or ate from the massive buffet of snacks that had appeared on a table. The Mossos d’Esquadra, the Catalan police, had visited the voting centres to check what was going on, then left. Everyone was prepared to block any seizure of voting materials, but I don’t think anyone was expecting the violence that the day would bring.

By 9am, the ballot box had appeared and the voting centre had been set up. We were all outside by now, protecting the door, looking in the window and applauding as the first vote was cast.

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